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tv   Memoirs of a Secretary at War  CSPAN  January 26, 2014 1:45am-2:51am EST

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stan, i'm assuming some things here because i never really had a detailed conversation with stan about why he didn't defend himself, only that he didn't. but i think that he knew he had made the decision to allow this nontraditional reporter to be a part of his entourage. i think he was stunned by the article and he may not -- an army inspector general report suggests he may not have known about a lot of the statements that were made by his staff to this reporter. and so i think he didn't quite know how to respond. he didn't want to throw his staff under the bus, so i think he did what he saw as the ethical thing for a commander to
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do under the circumstances, which was to take the hit. >> one question. >> let me just say to build on your observations, i mean there was a lot of goodwill toward general mcchrystal in the white house because during the fall of 2009 and we have are debating options for afghanistan, including whether to go with what he had recommended, this 40,000 additional troops or other options with smaller numbers that have been advocated by the vice president and others, there were a number of leaks in public statements by the military including by general mcchrystal that made it appear to the white house that, and to the president, that the military was trying to box him in and force his hand to adopt their option in terms of the 40,000 troops. i tried to convince the
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president that i could see where this suspicion came from because of these leaks and public statements. the president sought and others around him vice president and others saw it as an orchestrated campaign by the military leadership. i tried to argue that it was not a campaign, not orchestrated that if it had been orchestrated they would have been a lot smarter about it. but i was unsuccessful in that. but it did lead to an undercurrent of ill will toward him that when this article then came out about six months later he really didn't have a cushion. >> that was the last straw and i think as you write in your book that actually describe this as a pretext that the vice president used to have mcchrystal fired. >> well the way i describe it is that i think mcchrystal handed his opponents in the white house the ammunition with which to get rid of him.
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>> i want to talk to you very briefly about the geopolitical battles in washington and on the capital. do you do not paint a flattering picture and this is not big news of our political process in washington. what struck me was your very detailed accounts of interactions with democratic and republican members of congress who behind closed doors would tell you that the policies that you are promoting were actually things that had to be done or should be done or are going in the right direction but when it came out and face the clean lights and spoke to the press, there was a totally opposite description of the situation and they were highly critical of the president and of the pentagon. you have been in washington or you have been in government a long time. do you think that our dysfunctional politics are any different from the way they have ever been?
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>> well television contributes. i say in the book that when the red light on the television camera would go on in a hearing, it had the effect on members of congress of a full moon on werewolves. [laughter] and i guess the way i would put it in the way i write about it in the book is their politics in this country, as this center makes so clear, have been rough and tumble from the very beginning and quite vituperative even george washington in his second term came in for a lot of hits as did all of his successors. but what is different now and what has happened over the last i would say quarter of a century is that we have lost -- the congress has lost the ability to do the people's business. so, it's one thing to argue and fight and say terrible things about each other. that's been going on tour whole
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history, but the inability to pass legislation to deal with serious problems i think is a relatively new phenomenon. and some of it is institutional and has to do with gerrymandering and the fact that in the house maybe only 50 or 60 seats are not competitive, and so the only elections that really matter in a lot of cases are the primaries where you have got to repeal to your party space where do you are at rat or a republican. and what we have for the first half of my career were what i would describe as a large numbee senate, of senators who were centerleft, center right and figured out ways to put together coalitions and get import legislation passed. the list will be familiar to all of you but these bridge builders as far as i was concerned are people like phil cullen and bill bradley, jack danforth, john warner, david warren, sam nunn,
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nancy castle bomb, republicans and democrats in the list goes on and maybe the last one to leave because of frustration was olympia snowe. so you have this large number of people, most of whom could have been reelected forever who left in disgust because they couldn't get anything done. i think that is the new phenomenon over the last couple of decades that is especially worrying. now the other theme though in this book and i think this is an important point to make, despite my frustrations and even my anger at the congress, the reality is i got a lot of things done with the congress. most of my predecessors, it you are lucky, could get two or three or four big military procurement programs canceled that were over cost, overdue are no longer relevant.
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i cut nearly three dozen and ended up getting congressional approval or acquiescence in all of them. i cut almost 200 lien dollars out of the pentagon's overhead, and even eliminated a combatant command. i got the congress to support me on that. partly it was because i had an enormously strong supporter president obama and a veto threat behind me but it was also working across the aisle with members of congress of both parties and figuring out how to move the agenda forward. and so i argue at the end of the book that you know we do have these institutional problems such as gerrymandering, what i consider the weakening of the role of congress in governance because of the weakening of the committee chairs and a variety of other things. but at the end of the day, the problem you can begin to i think address the paralysis.
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not necessarily the polarization but the paralysis by people, by people at the white house and people in the congress beginning to treat each other more civilly. by people being willing to listen and take ideas from the other side, of not demonizing the other side, not distorting the facts purposely. i think they're a bunch of things just in terms of the way people treat each other in washington that could change the tone and the reason, the chairman of the house foreign affairs committee when i first became secretary a few months and told me that my arrival had been important because i changed the tone of the way that the debate was being carried on in iraq and other things. so i was able, the undercurrent
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of this book was i was able to make washington work but the way you make it work is through the way you treat people. >> since we are on the subject of politics and we are running out of time very quickly i want to ask you, you mention deep in the book there's a little description of a phonecall you had gotten from the summit democratic leader harry reid who wanted the defense department he said to spend some money and research on irritable syndrome. this is while you were dealing with yours in iraq and afghanistan. there's a great deal of danger here deploying certain metaphors and i'm going to try and avoid that. how did that conversation go? [laughter] >> i very politely told him that i would look into it. [laughter] he came out yesterday and was very critical of the book to which my response was, you know it's just a fact of life that members of congress vote on things they haven't even read.
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[laughter] [applause] >> well as they say you have to pass the bill to find out what's in it areas he actually actually called you on point and asked if you would be interested in running with president obama as its vice presidential candidate. how did that conversation go? >> it was one of the more bizarre conversations i think i've ever had. he called up and we were talking about something else and all of a sudden he said, i was largely responsible for getting, talking president obama into running for president. i heard that from a lot of people on the hill. and he said that there is no candidate for vice president. how long have you been a registered republican? i said well i'm not actually a registered republican. he said well where do you stand on abortion?
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i said i don't have a stand on abortion. it's not something that has ever come into the national security arena. he said how long were you in academic? i said not all that long. he said something might come of all of this are nothing but i just wanted to check. i hung up the phone and i just started to laugh and said that's really weird. [laughter] and as i say in the book i never told anybody about it because i didn't think anybody would believe me. [laughter] >> that you did end up working for the president nonetheless. one serious issue that has been raised by this book and i think the way the government functions came up early on in the coverage of the book was there was a lot of hammering about these conversations you had with president obama and the focus is always on the conversations with president obama, not with president bush but you revealed much there as well. they were held in confidence and that indeed, the president often
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invokes executive religion congress to prevent exactly this kind of information from coming out in the public so that there could be a free flow of ideas in that kind of free exchange of information. how did you work through the ethics of that? i came away thinking this was actually a public service that people learn a lot about the way their senior government leaders make very difficult decisions both republican and democrat but you are disclosing something and i have no doubt that both presidents didn't anticipate that this would be in the book. how did you work through that? >> well i think first of all, i think modern presidents have pretty realistic expectations about what will be written, but that said, from my standpoint there were a couple of things that were important. the first is if you actually
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read the book, the conversations i describe almost entirely paint these presidents in a positive light. because it shows them pushing back against the military, asking hard questions, not being being -- not allowing themselves to be spoonfed information and not just acquiescing because some guy with four stars on his shoulders said we ought to do thus and so so it shows these presidents doing what i think americans would hope their commander in chiefs would do. and it underscores that these two presidents, just like almost all of their predecessors, have disagreed with the military at various times and made decisions that the military had not recommended. the second piece of this is, this book is dedicated to the men and women of the u.s. armed forces and i wrote this book in substantial measure for the troops and their families.
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one of the things i wanted them to see under both of these presidents and in both iraq and afghanistan, i wanted them to see what the washington battles based look like. they knew what iraq and afghanistan looks like but i wanted them to have some insight into the real world of what was going on in washington as big issues associated with these wars were discussed. and to give them some sense of the passion and the amount of time spent debating these issues and the decisions that they would make. and i think that it is a realistic portrayal of the wars that were being fought in ching 10 at the same time there were wars being fought in iraq and afghanistan. >> and a final point, people's memories are short, especially
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in washington that the reality is all through 2010, senior white house staffers were leaking what the president was thinking and what is conversations were and his criticisms of the military and so on and so forth. on a routine basis in the newspapers, so the notion that what i describe in the book is the president growing reservations about the decisions he had made is absolutely no news to the newspapers. we are full of that information all through 2010 in the first part of 2011. >> i do agree with you. your descriptions of vote osha and president obama are often very laudatory but there is quite a bit of critical commentary and there is well and one portion of this book strikes me as very much in that vein.
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you take president obama to task for being what i would characterize as an uninspiring military leader. he didn't bring enthusiasm to his role role as commander-in-chief especially with regard to the afghanistan war and you i think had a conversation with rahm emanuel where you made that point that the soldiers needed to hear that the president was behind what you called the mission. so, that is -- and you chew that conclusion from your interactions with him and general counsels. >> yeah, and trying to weigh this and balance it, i supported every single one of the president obama's decisions on afghanistan including up to the decision to seek the strategic agreement with the afghans that would keep her residual force their act the end of the year. but there were two aspects of the war in afghanistan that
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troubled me. one was the presidents suspicion of the motives of the senior military, particularly when it came to their recommendations on afghanistan. and the second was what you describe. as i told from when i met with him, i don't mind that the president speaks out on exit strategies and so on, but the troops need to hear from their commander, the person who is sending them in harm's way, that their cause is just and noble and the mission is important for the country and therefore their sacrifices worthwhile. and the two and a half years that i worked for president obama he only did that once or twice. and i think that is one of the
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responsibilities of the commander in chief when he deploys men and women in harm's way, is that he'd be willing to speak publicly, to why that's important and why their potential sacrifices worthwhile. >> did you ever try to broach this to the president himself? >> no, as you say i race to directly with rahm and i said you know the president has to take ownership of this war. i think probably on a few occasions i mentioned to the president that he up to say more about why it's important to do this but the interesting thing is once he made this very difficult decision in november 2009, which he overrode the political recommendations of his vice president and all of his political advisers to approve this surge, there never was really other than the
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initial speech at west point on december 1, there was really not any kind of a white house effort over the ensuing months for there to be any kind of campaign with the american public to tell them why those decisions were important and why this cause was important. >> one last question. you mentioned in the book that you had urged the senior white house staff not to leak information about the raid to kill osama bin laden and of course the information leaked out within five hours. who leaked that information? >> i like to tell people first tell people first of all that the department of defense -- although the defense department is very good about holding secret military tactics and
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techniques that might put troops or lives at risk. so in this case my belief is that, i will describe the very end of our time in the situation room, we know bin laden has been killed. he is back in jalalabad and on his way to a -- and we are about to break as the president is going upstairs to address the nation and tell them about this extraordinary success. and i said now look, we used these tactics and techniques every night and going after taliban and al qaeda leaders so it's important that everybody agree that all we are going to say is that we killed him and not get into any details about the operation and how we did it. and as you say, right in the book that lasted about five hours.
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and everybody agreed that after i made this little pitch, everybody agreed it was like little kids we did our blood of kind of thing that we wouldn't do this and it all lasted about five hours. i believe that the leaks primarily came from the white house and the cia who just couldn't wait to brag about how good this had been. >> leu point out. >> then i think two weeks later defense probably started to cheyenne. >> you right that there is a significant operational downside to doing that because the model for that raid was the raids that were being done every night in afghanistan and iraq to apprehend and remove from what you call the battle space, these al qaeda commanders and taliban people. there was a significant cost to that. >> yeah, i think so. >> we have some questions from the audience and i would like to pose them to you but before you
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do that quick weight, was there anything that you did that you wish you could've could have done again and before you say that you write very movingly about the difficulty in coping with the casualties and your responsibility for that and that part of the book was very well-written and i highly recommend that people focus on that. >> i think i'm fairly, i think i am blunt and candid in describing mistakes that others made. i am equally blunt and candid in describing mistakes that i think i made and just to answer your question one for example is that i allowed a fairly dysfunctional chain of command problem in afghanistan to continue longer than i should have. where the u.s. commander in
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afghanistan actually didn't have command over all the american troops serving in afghanistan, and while i asked two successive chairman of the joint chiefs to try and fix fix it, it was ultimately my responsibility and i finally fixed it but i took too long to get there. that's just one example. >> just to follow that up quickly you write in the book that the special envoy and i think carl eikenbereikenber ry were working against the re-election campaign of our allies there of hamid karzai. and you didn't seem to be very happy about that. how did that happen? >> first of all, karzai made at the shortcomings but he sure as heck know what's going on in his own capital. so the idea that we could do this and him not know we were trying to get rid of it was
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pretty naïve in my view, and so when you see all these problems that karzai creates for us, his knowing that we for all practical purses attempted it who check-ins him in the summer of 2009 probably didn't help the relationship. >> and he is still there, nursing some resemblance i'm sure. i've some questions from the audience that i would like to read you. here is the statement first of all a flat-out position paper. thank you for thank you for your longtime commitment to protecting my family and country. get well soon. godspeed and go aggies. [laughter] i'm going to have trouble reading this but it's my understanding the chairman of the joints chiefs is directly responsible to the president.
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what valuable input do we lose when the chairman is obsequious to a domineering secretary of defense? >> well i think the chain of command actually does not include the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. nor does it include the vice president. it goes from the president to the secretary of defense to a combatant commander. so under the national security act of 1947, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff is one of the statutory advisers to the nsc, one of only two. the other is the head of intelligence. he is the president senior military adviser and he is the chairman of the joint chiefs. he has no direct command authority and i will say both president bush and president
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obama gave the joint chiefs including the chairman all the time they wanted and in my experience, and i watched two different chairman under two different presidents and i never saw either of them be obsequious or the president tried to intimidate them or sort of dampen their views by being sarcastic or harsh or insulting or intimidating in any way. both of these presidents, despite the fact that they both agreed, disagreed with the chairman on a number of occasions, were very respectful and gave them all kinds of time. i always make sure, first of all i considered a critical for me to get the most blunt possible
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advice from my senior military officials. and i will give an example of it and it will probably have to be bleeped, but when it came time for me to decide whether to extend military tours in iraq and afghanistan from 12 to 15 months, i was working with the military and trying to decide. this was a very difficult decision and i knew it would have the consequences for military families. my senior military adviser comes to me at one point and he says that the troops know you have to make this decision and they think you are an idiot for not make in yet. that's the kind of candor that i tried to encourage among the senior military and i believe that i had a very good relationship with them. and they would disagree with me on more than one occasion.
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the mraps was an example. medevac was another. the number of drones was another so i tried to encourage an environment where they would speak up and where they would need honest and candid. i think any secretary of defense for president who does not want that kind of candor is make in a terrible and frankly dangerous mistake. >> you have disclosed to me judging what from your book endless frustration with president bush and president obama and the joint chiefs on a number of occasions. >> it was a number of other senior military and their frustration and impatience was not over what the senior military would tell them in the situation and the oval office or even in open testimony. it was what they would go out and say in public speeches or television interviews and things like that.
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that is what got under both of these presidents skin. >> right, and i could see why it would. it seems to me there's a very difficult line to draw there. on the one hand you want to get good advice. this is a democracy citizens need and expect a certain level of transparency and information from their leaders and yet if a military leader is off the reservation and pursuing or promoting a policy agenda that differs with the white house it seems to me that could cause tremendous difficulties. >> is not only one that differs but pursuing an agenda that differs in the white house. speaking out about things that in some way or another limit the president's options or telegraph consequences that maybe the president would rather keep private during a period of deliberation. so one of the things that i write about his civil military relationships is the consequences of senior military speaking out too often in areas
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which are not necessarily bear direct responsibility for in terms of preempting the president. >> i have another question here. it's very simple and i think the m. answer is simple. which book, tour interview have you enjoyed the most, charlie rose and jon stewart and i would add of course the answer now has to be this stop. [laughter] >> lets just say that the interviews with jon stewart and charlie rose were somewhat different in nature. [laughter] but both were enjoyable. >> do you think the united states should adopt a policy of national service in place for a draft? >> i believe, if i could wave a magic wand, what i would favor is required national service
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that is not limited to the military. i believe that every young person in america between ages 18 to 28 or 25 or whatever ought to spend a year or two or three if in the military providing national service, of giving back to the country something in exchange for what they have been given. we hear so much in this country about our rights as citizens and we hear so little about our obligations as citizens. so whether it's tutoring in the inner city or rural schools are working in teach -- hospitals, teach for america, new version of the civilian conservation corps, there's a host of different things young people could do for some period
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of time and for example if you volunteered for the military you would have to commit for three years but you would get paid significantly more than any other area partly because of the risk and so on. and where i am torn is that there is, whether such service should be required or whether it should be voluntary. but the voluntary piece of it would involve some measure of pressure in the sense that if you had not performed national service, you would the significantly tested and edged in it missions for universities, in the hiring process for jobs. in other words this would come to be seen as amoral and ethical obligation on the part of a young person and if you chose
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not to serve, it would weigh against you in some of the choices in your life. i strongly believe that there ought to be -- you would find that the military leadership is totally against the draft. and i think i share that, but i think it ought to be broadened. service ought to be broadened for everybody. >> the last question for you. as you look into the future what do you see is the greatest threat to the security of the united states? >> well, and i'll honesty, i think that the greatest immediate threat to the united states is in fact the paralysis that we see in the two square miles that encompass capitol hill and the white house. if we can't begin seriously to address the problems that we face, whether it's education or
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immigration or the deficit or the national debt, a host of other problems, none of those problems can be solved in the span of one presidency or one congress, so the only way we can actually make headway against those problems is through bipartisan solutions that can be sustained through more than presidency and congress. and if we can't begin to get past this paralysis and ching tan, then i think we are in serious trouble. if you want to talk about national security issues, i think we have to worry about cyber. we have to worry about a terrorist in this country with a weapon of mass destruction. we have to worry about iran. we have to worry about north korea and we have to worry about something inadvertently creating a crisis in the south china sea. those are all kind of out there on the horizon as far as i'm concerned is significant
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problems, but the biggest challenge we face is getting our own house in order. >> secretary gates, thank you so much. it's been very interesting. [applause] [applause]
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